“expecting different results…”

 

Fireweed lake

(Fireweed blooming in Alaska)

I adore the summertime weather up here. Yesterday, it was actually 98-degrees about 4:00 pm.  For this part of Alaska, that is just over-the-top-hot! I was melting. It’s so hard to explain to those who have not travelled or lived this far north, but the sun is very different. When it is on you, you definitely feel it. And the sun is not in the place I would expect it to be when I look up, having lived south most of my life, at the times I look for it. 9:30-10:00 pm look much like 2:00 pm back in Southern California. It is still weird to wear sunglasses at 11:00 pm.

 

Midnight sun AK

(Midnight sun in AK)

Today I have been puttering in my yard. It amazes me how fast things grow with all this sunshine. We have just experienced a week of gloomy, rainy weather and the grass got so tall. The amazing thing, too, is that after we have no rain for a day or two, our plants are falling over, dying. So today I have been pulling off the dead leaves and flowers and soaking everything. My basil was so pretty about a week ago, but today its’ amazing purple blooms were just sagging and I thought I might have lost it. But I pruned away and soaked it, then put it in a sunnier spot, and after the past few hours of sun-worship, it looks amazing. Whew. And I sit here, after playing with our vegetables, in a completely different outfit, with hair dripping wet. Me and the hose had an altercation. It did not want to stay where I wanted it to, pointing where I wanted it to point, watering what I wanted it to water! We argued, it soaked me, but I finally balanced it so it is watering almost our entire raised bed vegetable garden.

yard sprinkler

(My 1950s era sprinkler head!)

I was determined to win! It is an old fashioned way to spray water on your garden, but you know what? It works amazingly well. There is something to be said for the old and true ways of doing things. Our ancestors spent eons thinking this stuff up and we are constantly trying to “improve” on their ideas, when sometimes the original was amazing and perfect, and still works the best.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 2and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20. This quote is also known as the “Great Commission” wherein Christ instructs His Apostles to take what He has taught them, and to teach others. And to make disciples of “all” nations. This was the original request Christ made to his Apostles, and they in turn have requested that we, too, do the same. It dates back to Biblical times and it is still true today, perhaps even more so.

Runner-Bean-Flowers

(Pole beans in bloom)

As I played with our pole beans, which are flowering and reaching for places to climb, I wove them along the wires my husband strung around our garden for them. I had to be extremely gentle with them, as when they are in this phase of growing, they are so fragile. And I thought of me and how I have guided my children, in all their growth-phases and when they were their most fragile, and their strongest. And I know, deep in my soul, that my heart was in the right place. I want to spend eternity surrounded by the Grace of God, and being with family and friends who also chose to follow Christ and His Word in our lives. However, if I am being honest, I know there have been opportunities where I have missed sharing my faith, and where I have perhaps not lead my children as well as I could have. And it weighs on me.

Success sharing faith

Just now, I had to go back outside to move the sprinkler so I could get the end row of our vegetables. I argued with that darn sprinkler, but I got it to water just the plants I wanted it to water. I got a little wet, but I approached it smarter this time! The plants back there are the ones who also see the least sunshine during our long days. But I am determined, that through working with them, weeding, watering, and paying attention to their needs, that I will reap a harvest. This is just such a perfect analogy for our struggles in life, and with those who we love who do not walk the same path we walk. We can look around us and see those who we know are struggling to survive in this crazy world. Some get no light given to them at all, walking through life in relative darkness. Some are not tended to regularly, nor do they receive adequate watering. But having struggled with my sprinkler of choice (my chosen faith expression) I know sort of how the sprinkler works, what I can expect from it, and how to approach it to make it work the best for my garden. We who claim to have faith in Christ all know this. We struggle, we wrestle, we sometimes get soaking wet and have to change and start over. But we learn and know more or less what to expect.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

This quote is broadly credited as having been said by Albert Einstein. And the man would have experienced this in his quest for scientific knowledge! Today it aptly applied to my struggle with my sprinkler. I could not approach it as I had at first, or nothing would be watered but me! My hair is still wet and it helps remind me of failing, but learning from that failure, and not repeating it. I have tried and failed, but got back up again over and over again in the past 31 years of parenting. Raising children, and witnessing our faith to them, is more about how we live our lives, rather than memorizing religious dogma or facts. Don’t get me wrong, we used the Baltimore Catechism with our kids. However, I truly believe that our children are sponges. They soak up everything about our lives as a family, while growing up. They see how we treat them and their siblings, and how my husband and I treat each other. They see how we interact with others. Right now, one of our adult children and family have neighbors with lots of children. These neighbor kids are constantly looking over the fence or coming over, and they are parroting things that are obviously being said by their parents. These neighbor children have asked my adult children if they are Catholic, and then asked why they don’t go to church. And that’s from their 8-year-old! They question and say things that are not from a child’s mind. Their parents purport to be very strong in their faith, and they homeschool, and they attend Church very regularly – all the hallmarks of good kids. But what they are teaching their children by their actions and their words are completely undoing all that homeschooling and church-going. And it is a horrible example to my family, who struggle mightily with everything to do with faith, most especially those who act all holy and perfect, but are far from it. It does nothing but make my adult kids less likely to pursue church attendance, nor to teach their own children about the faith.

neighbor fence

I have learned, over the years, that approach and first impressions are so very important. If we crash and burn when trying to share our faith with others, well, we need to get back in there and repeat, repeat, repeat. We cannot give up or stop, but we can repeat in a myriad of ways, too. I leaned today how to maneuver my hose so that I could control water flow, and the position of that darned sprinkler. I had to get soaking wet, first, though. But in the end, the Lord controls the harvest. I have to eventually trust in Him to touch the souls of those I lead to Him. My children are making adult choices these days. I can no longer claim responsibility for their choices. They are on their own in this world, and before God. The majority have children of their own they are raising. Our youngest is almost 18 and is starting to make choices – he is planning his future and making decisions about his career path, as well as friends and socializing opportunities. Yes, sometimes I am a nervous wreck. But that being said, I have also shared my faith with him by living it out in front of him. I have struggled and he has witnessed that struggle and we have talked about it at length. He shares his view on things and so I am really loosening up on those motherly apron-strings. I pray that I have shared what he needs to hear and see and learn with him, before he goes out among the wolves of this world. But all I can do, as a parent, is pray. “God has got this!” as Mark Hart the Bible Geek would say.

Chipmonks

We jokingly say in our family that the eldest plowed the road, the middle one paved it, and the youngest is just skating on through. Those can be seen as stages in how we learn, as well. Sometimes we struggle, but hopefully we grow and learn. We may, in the middle of life, back slide and slip up, but getting back on track and cruising along again is a good thing. We learned a lot from raising our kids. We got wet so often…we moved that sprinkler over and over again….we had to keep moving it and re-arranging it as the years went by. But now, we have a garden that is reaping an amazing harvest of wonderful grandchildren we adore, we have some pretty awesome adult kids, and the future is still ahead of us.  We are blessed, but we are not sitting back and just allowing the weeds to take over – even if our children are adults. We still wrestle with that sprinkler! We live our faith, we strive to be good examples, and we constantly pray and nurture those we love. God has blessed our efforts and we pray our family tree keeps growing, resting in the love of God.

family gathering

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“…let it go, let it go…”

Frozen

Unless you are completely separated from children, or live in a country without Disney movies, those words above connotate a certain reaction. For most of us with, at least, grandchildren, we know those words are from a Disney movie called, “Frozen.” And many of us wish it would hurry up and just be gone! But when it comes to our children, not so much.

We are down to our last child living at home. And he does not consider himself a child, but rather, a young adult. My middle child reminded me that both he and his older brother are married men, with children of their own (which is precisely why I know about that Frozen movie) and that his brother will be 30 in October. I responded with, “Thanks.” Ha-Ha! This past week, Cinderella came out on DVD. Some movies are meant to be seen in a theater, whereas some can wait for the DVD release (cannot wait for the new Star Wars – definitely a theater movie!). I took my teenager, along with some friends, to see Cinderella in 3-D IMAX. There were just two boys in our adventure, and they were both more excited for the candy/popcorn and the 3-D glasses than the movie, but the other mom and I loved it. To me, it was so worth it to go to the theater. I loved that movie. And I bought it the day it came out. Why? It made me feel good. Her dress (the blue one) was so gorgeous. The backstory of her parents and family – and their love for one another! I loved the special effects with the mice and lizards. Her fairy godmother was hilarious. The scene when the king dies, but he and his son have that “needed” conversation about love. I loved that movie. There were some meaningful and poignant moments in it, which balanced the lovey-dovey parts boys would naturally hate. And this past Friday night, I made my two men watch it with me over dinner. My husband loved it. Yay! Mom win! It was not a war movie, or a sports movie, or a disaster/end-of-the-world, fantasy epic. That’s a win in a house of men. (My dog and cat are the only other females in my house). My teen sat next to me and as the movie ended, he said, “Please tell me you are not crying about Cinderella.” I, of course, was! Ha-Ha! Love a happy ending! (And that dress!!!).

lily-james-1024

But also this weekend, something epic happened. My youngest son had his first date – as in a car with a girl – to a movie – date. And this mom freaked out a little bit. It was just another step in the letting go process of parenting. And those steps can hurt sometimes, especially when you know it is the last time you have to experience a “first date.” As a homeschooling mom, it was nothing at all like the last time I taught Geometry! For that, I did the happy dance! I taught Geometry to three kids, and I had to suffer through it myself. Ms. Fogler. I swear she hated me, and hated teaching, and hated Geometry. It did nothing for my math career. So for me, the last time through Geometry was not a sad thing. This year, I am going through my last year of Algebra II and I must say I am preparing my happy dance. Way ahead of time, I know, but nonetheless, I am preparing. I am not a math person (Cathy, I love you and am so proud of you for having a PhD in Math… someone has to do that, but it is just not me!). There are things we go through as parents that we are not sad about not having to do again (give birth, change diapers, clean up barf, potty train… it is quite a list and this is just part of it). But there are some things that are monstrously difficult to wade through, over and over again. And the last time is especially momentous. The First Date fits the bill on that one.

In this day and age of rampant sex everywhere, wading through courting/dating is a heavy responsibility. And it is nothing to be taken lightly, nor in my opinion, is it a subject to be discussed in school. This is a family decision. And even though I have raised several, each son is different in how they feel about it and how they choose to experience it. Both of my older sons dated sporadically. They had more friends who were girls than girlfriends. Which is fine by me. And they both knew the moment they met their wives and they were done dating anyone else. And I tried so hard to instill in my boys a love of women in the sense of respecting and loving me, and the model for all women, the Theotokos; the Mother of God.

I always have insisted the boys treat each girl in their company as someone’s future wife and mother. Would they have wanted me to be treated the way they are treating that girl? Would they have wanted their wives to be treated that way? The mother of their children? Friends of theirs who were female – did they appreciate how their friends were being treated by other boys? How did it make them feel? How was the Mother of God treated? From Scripture, we know that some in her home village kept their distance because she was pregnant out of wedlock; they actually shunned her. Joseph took her as his wife to protect her, and to honor her, and because an ANGEL, a real ANGEL, appeared to him and instructed him to do so. He knew that GOD wanted him to be with Mary, and he never doubted it, for a moment. And the ANGELS continued to care for the Holy Family, once again instructing Joseph to flee when the Christ Child was in danger. He trusted God with his decision to marry Mary. I want my sons to trust God in their decision making processes, as well.

360 Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1879 Oil Painting by Luc-Olivier Merson

I love this painting and have used it in posts before. It shows Mary and Christ resting on the Sphinx, with Joseph on the ground, as a guard. “The Flight Into Egypt.”  I love so much about this painting. The stillness and peace within that vast desert is conveyed through color and lack of light, except from Christ, Himself. I love that both Mary and Joseph slumber in peace, even with the Divine Light still glowing brightly.  That is what I have hoped for all my children, that they can rest in the Divine Light of Christ.

Letting go a little at a time begins to happen just after birth when we, as mothers, have to let someone else hold our child, who we have kept safe within our womb for the past nine months (or so). And we continue to let go, in steps, often quite literally, as our children grow and walk away. I remember letting my eldest walk into a parochial school kindergarten. I knew the nuns were there and his teacher was amazing. I had complete trust he would be safe, but I still cried – my son ran into class, never looking back. Yeah, that’s typical of my almost-30-year old! Running towards his future! I distinctly remember my chat with our middle son as he prepared to attend school for the first time. (Ironically it was a class with Cathy, who I mentioned above. She was his math teacher and eventually became a dear friend). And after I dropped him off, I cried. He was off to a high school, and not with me. My life has been a series of moments of letting go. Death in our family, friends who have died, and friends along the way we have lost contact with, and my children beginning to have a life separate from mine. They are making memories of which I share no part. It has been hard in many ways, and yet seems right in so many others. As our children merge their childhoods into adulthood, letting go becomes more severe in the sense that the steps are larger. This past summer, our youngest flew across the country to a summer camp – alone. He had to change planes in 4 major airports, and then catch a bus for the camp itself. Last year he attended the same camp, but with a friend. This year he was alone. I was a wreck. Once the camp confirmed he was there, I was finally able to breathe. It was a long journey, for us both. When our eldest went off to war, he took part of me with him. I never slept very well until he was on American soil, once and for all. He doesn’t realize it, but I shed the same sort of tears when he left for basic training as I did when he walked into kindergarten. Dropping my middle son off at college, thousands of miles from home was devastating and exciting, all mixed together. And as each child takes their momentous steps away from home, we all die a little. We mourn their babyhood, and we rejoice at their maturity. Seeing my sons parent their own children is an indescribable joy and part of this whole parenting and letting go process. Parenting is not for wimps or fraidy-cats. This is serious stuff. And it doesn’t stop, even when they are married with children of their own.  I recall my grandfather telling my dad, on his 60th birthday, “Well, son, I guess I can stop worrying about you now.” We all sort of laughed, but as I get closer to 60 myself, I totally understand my grandpa’s statement. My grandfather was 86 at the time, and I think I can see myself worried over my children another 20 years or so!

So, today as I chatted with my son about his date, we laughed and we were both happy. I think he felt good about himself. I know he was proud he paid for it all out of his hoarding abilities. (That kid always has more money on him than I do!). He introduced us to his date and we all chatted a little last night. It was good. They first attended youth group at Church together, which I think is a great place/way to meet someone and get to know them. My husband and I share a strong faith and I know it has been the glue for many years, in our family. I am learning to let go – just like the song admonishes me. My older kids tease me that it’s okay and he will be fine, etc. I know that. But that last one out of the nest is rough. I am looking forward to our empty nest time, though, as we have never known marriage without children (yes, honeymoon baby!) and we have lots of places we want to go and see. So life is getting more exciting, even as we hit our golden years. I hope my kids know I never intentionally held them back, but rather, held their hands until they let mine go.

hands

Oh no! It’s Friday! Fish sticks!

fish-sticks

I have to admit that for years, when I even thought of fasting, I thought of fish sticks. I grew up in Southern California and the public schools always served them on Fridays. Being raised Protestant, I had no idea why they only had them on Fridays. I liked them. I remember seeing those Gorton Fisherman commercials, too. I never connected why they would show up at the time of year they did, but I use to sing along.  Occasionally my mom would even serve them!

Flash forward 40+ years and here I am, a Byzantine Catholic who fasts. My kids cut out a comic strip for me and hung it on our refrigerator, not saying a word. The gist of the cartoon is one of the sons is poking the Thanksgiving turkey and the mom dead-pan answers, “No, it’s not tofu.”  My boys thought that was hilarious. At one point in time, my family thought I was taking fasting to the extreme. They dreaded anything tofu! They often referred to it as “mystery meat” and during Lent made a game out of guessing if it was “real food” or a tofu concoction. I don’t regret diving in with both feet. I was given some amazing recipes and I will still serve them, even when it is not a fasting period. Diving in also gave me time to realize my talent level with cooking and preparing fasting foods, define my limitations and the limitations of my family’s desire to try new things, and I lost the fear of fasting.

Why do I mention fear? I think it is because we all fear something we are not used to. When I shop, if I see a deal on “pretend” meats, I pick them up and put them in the freezer. You would be amazed at how many times I serve chicken strips on a salad and the family eats it up, only asking if it was tofu after they are done. And more often than not, it was tofu! I can fast all year long without stressing about it, without focusing on the cheeseburgers I am missing. (We actually found a brand of pretend burgers that we like, so it’s no longer an issue). We need not fear fasting but embrace what fasting really means to us.

Have you ever met someone who is totally cranky during Lent, moaning about this or that they have given up? Or complaining loudly that they can’t eat something because they are FASTING? And I did caps on purpose. It almost seems like a shout, when the complaints are non-stop. But let’s examine it in the USA. The Bishops in the Roman Church and many of our eastern brethren (Ruthenian, for example) have relaxed fasting rules so much, you pretty much don’t find it too much of a hardship. They ask you to restrain from full meals on Wednesday and Friday, and when you do eat, to refrain from meat. Every year there are internet discussions about what is permittable under the fasting rules. But the relaxed fasting expectations laid out by these Bishops are not the total picture of fasting. Bring on the fish sticks every Friday, but enjoy them with mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, salad with ranch, rolls with butter, soda (“but no chocolate, I gave up chocolate”). Not much of a hardship, is it? We had a friend who used to stop daily at a market and get gourmet water in the largest bottle he could buy, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. He would eat that and drink that all day and feel like he was fasting. He was, in essence, but I think he missed the point. Anyone can eat bread and drink water all day if you eat gourmet bread and drink gourmet water. That is not what the Bishops of the West, nor most of the Eastern Bishops, would like people to do. They offer their guidelines as just that – guidelines to help you achieve a minimal participation in Lenten fasting traditions. Not to be haughty, but to offer another example, lots of Roman Catholics, and most Eastern Catholics, fast like that every Wednesday and Friday all year long. When Lent rolls around, they increase the discipline.

For us in the Melkite tradition, we are encouraged to attempt to keep the full fast. For that, you abstain from all meat, fish, dairy, olive oil, and wine. But that is keeping the strict fast, because the expectation is that you do that for the full 40 days… not just Wednesdays and Fridays. Our Bishops encourage us to participate as much as we can. The same norms apply to those who cannot fast due to age/health, or other reasons. For example, in an area where fish is the main diet, how do you fast from fish? Up here in Alaska, our diets are more narrow due to availability and expense. In the remote villages, fresh fruits and vegetables are very expensive and hard to come by. People eat mostly fish and game, supplementing with frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. We garden and “put up” what we can grow ourselves, but nonetheless, it is a different problem here. So the Church encourages us to do what we can.

We need to look at fasting as an opportunity to take stock of how we feed ourselves, our desires. Our culture has become so hedonistic. It has become a culture of “I want it and I want it now.” How often do parents buy their children a toy in the store to keep them quiet, rather than instilling the discipline of proper behavior, because it’s easier at the moment? How many parents do not attend evening services during the week, and often miss Divine Liturgy, because their children are not behaving, rather than bring them and give their children an opportunity to learn to be still and to appreciate other environments? How many parishes make those same parents feel comfortable and safe enough that they know they and their children are always welcome, even on bad-behavior days? How often do we stop and wait in a long line because we are craving a latte? Trust me, here in Alaska, there are coffee vendors on every corner and I have been fighting a craving for a “Venti Breve Latte, two shots, one Splenda.”  I have literally been thinking about the taste during the day, and avoiding it because for me, it is an example of my gluttonous nature and hedonistic desires (I want it and I want it NOW!). In addition to that, a Venti Breve Latte has 700 calories in just 20 ounces. And this is all a part of fasting. God is giving us this opportunity to rein in all our passions, including our deep attachment to the pleasures we get from food and drink.

Fasting is something to embrace. It means we pay attention to the bites of food and sips of drink we put in our mouths. We make a very conscious effort to control how much and what we eat and drink. But that is just the food portion. What about fasting from the portions of our nature that are not so God-like? Nasty behavior we automatically turn to, out of habit, when someone cuts us off while driving? What about talking behind the backs of others? Slandering others? Not giving others the benefit of the doubt about their behavior before ASS-U-M-Ing they are in the wrong? Just embracing silence (not watching TV, listening to the radio, going online all the time, texting ad nauseam)? Reading more, praying more, attending Church more often?

True Fasting. St. Basil

Fasting is just so much more than fish sticks on Fridays. And I don’t want to be afraid, ever, of embracing or trying more. I know books that beckon to me, and I know each Lent I peek inside and learn something new. I know prayers that long to be said, and I recite them, feeling better as I do. I know there are foods in my pantry and drinks available at Starbucks, but I know that by ignoring them/fighting that craving and instead focusing on my walk with God, my fasting will be something I can do all year long, but with renewed vigor during Great Lent. And as I fight the urge, even right now, to get that Venti Breve Latte, I will instead reach for my glass of water with Lemon Oil in it. At least this time, I am victorious. We have a long way to go until Pascha, when we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. Let’s do this together, one day, one prayer, at a time. Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“…yet He did not sin.”

Sail-Boat13I’ve had weeks when life just sails along and you really have to pinch yourself at how awesome that week has been.  And then there is this week.  Well, it’s not the polar opposite, but it ranks right up there with days I would prefer not to repeat, although it is ending pretty good.  I love spending fun, abrupt, and un-planned time with my kids and grandchildren, and last night was just that. Sort of helped wrap this week up with a bow, so to speak!

BowsWhen I see injustice, it is somehow wired in me to do something, if I can.  I also have this habit of not being easily intimidated.  I am not sure where I get this over-inflated sense of confidence from, because physically, I am so not in tip-top shape and someone could just push me and down I would go.  Which is another entirely different thought for a post!  However, when the hairs on the back of your neck go up and you feel deep in your bones that something is wrong, well, for me, I have to lash out at the perpetrator.

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”…” Matthew 21:12-13

tissot-the-merchants-chased-from-the-temple-746x471Jesus got mad.  Don’t forget, He was human in all things, save sin!  (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15).  And some feel that righteous anger is just that – righteous.  This week I confronted someone who I felt was being unjust.  Because of that it has been intimated I was lying and embellishing the truth to fit my own agenda.  I find it laughable and ludicrous because obviously this person does not know me well.  This person also presents as a Christian; one who attends Church regularly.  But the metanoia, or change of heart (“to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.” by Richard Trench in his work, “Synonyms of the New Testament”) does not seem to have really occurred.  And I am saddened by the whole thing.  Partially because I dislike getting that angry. I knew in my heart I was right and that I had truth on my side, but I still hate loosing my temper. And I have a profound sense of disappointment in learning someone is not up to the standards I had presumed they were.

When we see things that we know are inherently wrong, it is almost adding to the sinfulness to not do anything about it. In traditional, western, Catholic theology, there is the concept of the “sin of omission,” which is considered to be as evil as the sin of “commission,” when we actually do a sinful act.  Because, truthfully, not doing anything in the face of evil is as bad for us as committing evil, in regards to the stain on our souls.  And that is where I was stuck – in that proverbial position of the rock and that darned old hard place.  And so I stood up and railed against the wrongs I witnessed and was told about.  And it got ugly; I did not feel intimated and I never felt that I was going “off” on someone, but I truly did loose my temper.  I actually only had resolution in mind for those who had been wronged, but instead it has grown into a sense of protecting any others affected now or in the future. And that is why, I think, I got angry.  The injustice around me, but also that which could be perpetrated on others, in the future, if I stood aside and said or did nothing. And to top it off, I was also protecting family, and friends who mean the world to me.

Knowing that you have truth on your side makes railing against wrongs so much easier.  Another side incident occurred when I could demonstrate this to my son.  He and a friend each told their parents about some things that had happened.  When the parents discussed the incidents, it was found that the boys never wavered from what had taken place. And I told my son how wonderful it is to tell the truth, because you don’t have to remember stories, or worry about keeping things “straight,” because truth is truth and it is always the same. Lies get convoluted and twisted and become some difficult thing to transverse through, much like the maze of wiring below. (Shout out to my electrically-oriented friends and family!!)

Tangled wiringAnd now we have to move forward and make some changes. All change, in pretty much all areas, can cause pain.  It can be rough to go from one environment to another.  We experienced over the past year complete relocation, thousands of miles from our comfort zone.  We made a place for ourselves; we changed; and we are getting comfy, and feeling safe and loving a new sense of belonging.  And then something pretty ugly happens.  Now, we have to regroup once again!  But I know truth triumphs over all things; I know that anger is occasionally justified; and I know my heart is in the right place.

DidacheThere is a profound sense of who we are and what we stand for, that we develop as we age. Hopefully it is not a prejudicial point of view wherein you treat anyone who diverges from your point of view as evil, “other,” or inherently in the wrong.  According to the Miriam Online Dictionary, prejudice is defined as:

a (1) :  preconceived judgment or opinion (2) :  an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge; b :  an instance of such judgment or opinion;  c :  an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

I was tasked with working for an EEO Unit within a Human Resources department in California a few years back.  I learned the legal treatment and definition of prejudice in all its glory and ugliness.  I think it colored my sense of right and wrong, and perhaps made me sensitive to prejudicial behavior.  Prejudice can come from many places and it can mean many things.  There are the most common forms based on color, creed, or gender.  But there are some others which seep into our lives that we do not even realize. In schoolyard sports, back in my day, it could mean being called last when choosing teams.  It can mean “not being seen” in the profoundest sense of the term by the society around you because you somehow do not “measure up.” There’s prejudice when we separate those who have difficulties from those who do not – as in mental or physical defect.  There is, however, a common one that makes me crazy and that is prejudicial treatment based on belonging to the “in crowd.”  Keeping others on the outside while developing a clique among a large group is wrong and hurtful. It can be based on unfamiliarity (“Who’s that kid over there?  He doesn’t belong here!”) or lack of exposure (“When did they move here?).  It can be based on preconceived notions (“I never knew a girl could run that fast”) that we have been handed down by our elders. There are many, many ways prejudice can enter our lives and we need to acknowledge it exists, and then we need to work on stamping it out.

Main_camporeeAnd so I took my stand and I made my statement and I sleep well at night. I have no problems defending against prejudice and we all should become aware of it.  I have started saying, in part to help me remember, “Different is just different. It is not better; it is not worse; it is not more, nor is it less. It is just different.”  Perhaps if we could apply this to all aspects of our lives, the world would spin a little smoother, and joy would be the emotion we experience more and more often.

“and guard you from the evil one.”

snowfall-4465Today is one of those days when it’s great to get out of the house, but then, it’s even better to be indoors!  It’s in the 18-19 degree range, with blowing snow and ice.  My youngest son is on day one of an Arctic Survival Camping trip about 200 miles north of us.  Up there, they are expecting in the 10″ – 20″ range of snow.  At our neck of the woods, we expect in the 1″ – 2″ range! So I was thinking about him as our glass door banged against the front door as the wind battered it.  I sure would not want to be in a tent in this! Of course, I am nowhere near 15 years old and filled with excitement of living off the land, male bonding, and all that sort of thing.  If I camp, I need a camper or trailer; better yet, a hotel room…no more tents for this grandma!

Anyway, I have been mulling over a bunch of thoughts in my head and they all sort of relate.  Which is weird, but cool at the same time, because I know God has a lesson in there for me.  A friend was given a baby boy to foster this week.  He is so adorable, I just wanted to cuddle him and kiss and hug him. He has the cutest smile, ever.  And he reminded me of my grand daughter, as they are just a couple of weeks apart in age.  He was removed from his birth home because of abuse.  As I l gazed on him in the Church Hall during coffee hour on Sunday, I had tears running down my face, and I grabbed the sides of his car seat and gave that little man my best smiles and coos, because I was weeping for so many reasons. (1) His age is so close to my grand daughter and I have to admit, I have a serious love affair with that little baby girl going on.  Grandma fell hard for her.  (2) I hurt because of his situation and then (3) I got so angry at his situation that it made me cry more.  I just hugged my friend and told her how happy I was he found a home where he will be cuddled and loved on 24/7!  And (5) I was taken back, in my mind, to a horrible time in my life, a few years ago.  So many things were going on.  But to sum it up, we were going through a short-sale on our house, my husband was out of work, our youngest son was having difficulty in school (as in a totally, and completely, untenable situation), my work situation was not good (governmental layoffs), and I got selected to be on a felony child abuse jury.  It was a long case. It was an ugly case. I tried, and tried, during jury selection to get myself out of it, but for some reason, both sides wanted me on that jury. (One main reason is that I was a government employee at that time, and as such, I get paid full salary regardless of where I show up to work.  Jury duty for government employees is considered another day at the office. Ugh.)  I was instantly taken back to those horrible photos and testimonies.  I was instantly feeling my stomach just clench in anger and frustration. Another aspect that made it so horrible for me is that the child who was “feloniously” abused looked exactly, as in “could be related to,” my  youngest son.  I would go home at night, unable to talk about it, and just weep.  My husband would hold me and I would just cry my eyes out, only to fall into a fitful sleep, and be required to get up and repeat it for another day (for weeks on end).  I thought I had put it behind me.  But meeting that precious little boy yesterday brought the memories swooping in, and I found myself unable to stop thinking about it.  And I am obviously still thinking about it.

jesus-with-children-0408“Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent..” Psalm 140:4.

This morning my daughter-in-law asked me to go to breakfast, and since I am home alone this week, I jumped at the chance.  Off we went to iHop.  I had some amazing crepes, buckets of coffee (daylight savings time is just so stupid…) and sat across from her sitting with my two grandies, and me, just watching it all and loving every moment.  She and I talked about my memories, and about my friend who took in this little baby.  We both got teary-eyed at the thought of someone hurting such a little guy.  And as I gazed at my grandies, I got such a fierce sense of protectiveness.  I don’t know what I would do if anyone hurt any of them, in any way.

God calls us to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  And He also calls us to love our enemies.  As I sat on that jury, looking at a father who had abused his child so severely, I tried to love him; I really did.  And I prayed to God to help me handle that situation.  What draws a parent to harm their child?  I know kids and crying are no fun, but I just could not ever abuse a child.  I’d put myself in a time-out before I could hurt a child. And as I tried to love this abuser, I knew “beyond a shadow of a doubt” he was guilty and voted to convict. I could not help him any more but by putting him where he could no longer harm anyone else.

After this trial, things disintegrated in my life to such a degree I found myself taking anti-depressants and took a leave of absence from my job.  I drove my middle son to college and drove home (across 4 states over about 18 hours) listening to a Mercy Me CD a friend had given me (thank you, Raghada) and just prayed. I prayed about my life, about the situation of my son and his schooling, my job, our living situation (by this time we had to vacate our home and move to a rental, but my husband had a new job – a bright spot).  I spent those hours with the windows all down, singing at the top of my lungs (trust me, it was good I was alone and in the vast desert for that part of it) and I realized that my life was disordered.  That was it – I was in disarray in so many areas.  And a calm clarity came to me, as I stared at my Jerusalem cross hanging from the rear-view window.  God needed me at home. My son needed me at home. My husband wanted me at home. My brief foray into the working world had come to a close.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”  (Mark 10: 13-16)

I needed to focus on a childlike approach to God, as well as to not hinder my children and keep them from God.  For my youngest son, the same one who is off on an Arctic Survival adventure this week, I needed to bring him home and help him myself.  My first duty is to be a faithful child of God; my second is to be a wife and mother.  Both my husband, and my sons, needed me at home.  My husband liked my paycheck, but he hated me working. Our lives run so much smoother with me at home.  And so I went back into homeschooling (we are now doing HS!!!) and keeping the home fires burning.  And as a stay-at-home wife and mother, I have a real sensitivity to protecting these helpless little ones.  They can be infants, they can be 10, they can be teenagers, but we need to bring our children to a safe haven and to “hinder them not” in their discovery of their faith.

Elder SiluanI still struggle with seeing little children abused and my anger about their situation and the adults who perpetrate these crimes against children is something I wrestle with (as became so obvious to me yesterday).  But I do know that we are all here to bring our children to God.  We are here to be sure they are safe.  We are here to give them a firm place, a foundation, to grow into healthy, Christian adults.  We are perhaps not here to tame this world, but to work out some of the kinks and make it not such a horribly rough place to be, and to raise the next generation, who can work at softening the edges of the evil one, who definitely holds sway over so many.  I know I feel protective of these little ones I see in the arm of friends who put themselves out there for them, and I love that there are families willing to share with the hurting children in our world.  But I also know I am here to keep an eye on my own family, my own children and grandchildren, making sure they are safe and free to grow up and love the God I know is here, protecting me.

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

Infant Baptism

“…believe in miracles…”

handsToday we anxiously await the birth of our first grand-daughter, and second grandchild.  It is a wonderful part of getting older, to witness your family grow with your children becoming spouses, and then parents. It is a God-given thing to share with them,  welcoming new life into the world, and sharing in creation with Our Creator.

When my husband and I married, I was hearing my biological clock tick very loudly and so we opted to welcome children as soon as the Lord blessed us with them.  Our oldest son was baptized on our one-year wedding anniversary!  That year, it happened to fall on the Feast of the Holy Family on the western calendar.  Each of our sons has been baptized on that same date, as we felt so blessed to be a family and wanted to share that feast day, and our Wedding Anniversary, with our sons each year.  We lost many children along the way and we mourned each miscarriage.  Sad to say our oldest son knew what miscarriages were by the tender age of 4 years old, having sat with me in emergency rooms while I lost yet another child; more than four by that time.  I have lost seven children to miscarriage and I believe that my love of this miracle of life comes from experiencing these losses.  Many women I am now close friends with became my friend over our shared losses.  We have held each other up through this loss of life and through each subsequent gift of life.  I have never felt so close to God as when I was pregnant, experiencing the emerging life within me. It is a feeling I will never forget.  As I lost each baby I did lose, I could also imagine the grief God felt over the loss of even one life He created, but most especially the sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son.  And I admired all the doctors and nurses who tried to save our babies, working medical miracle after miracle on our behalf, and on behalf of our unborn children.

I have a family member who lost a child due to the side effect of a medical procedure.  As she lay there, loosing her baby, there was a woman brought in who was screaming at the botched abortion she had gone through and the immense pain she was suffering.  They had to try and save her life after she had killed her baby, who happened to be the same gestational age as the baby of this family member.  A nurse commented to her how hard it was to have the two of them as patients at the same time.  With my family member, they were working so hard to save her child, while the woman next to her had just killed her child and may now forfeit her own life over it.  As it turned out, my family member did lose her baby; it was a daughter and they were able to hold her, name her, and then bury her.  The woman next to them was saved but she was never able to have children after her botched abortion.

Our Lord has gifted us with this amazing ability to give life.  I never, ever take a single life for granted.  Each pregnancy I had was a blessing in and of itself.  My two biological sons have 7 siblings surrounding the Throne of God, praying for them, and their children.  My adopted son is with us because he was saved from an abortion attempt.  God is good and never gives us more than we can handle, and He blesses us abundantly.

Today, our family is increasing by one.  We believe it is a girl and we are all so very thrilled.  Our other daughter-in-law is also pregnant, and we are going to find out the baby’s gender in the next month or so.  We will be blessed regardless of the gender, because it is another life being added to our growing family.  That baby is due in the Fall and we are thrilled to be able to share this journey with them, as we now live nearby.  Today I am reflective of the process of giving life, in all of its glories and pains.  The only way giving birth is truly painless is through medication; it is a fact of life.  But it is a pain that is accompanied by great rejoicing…the pain that gives life.

In our culture, we are pretty hedonistic.  We want what we want, when we want it.  We don’t want to wait, nor do we want to sweat overmuch for it.  It is the era of instant everything – certainly instant communication.  And we have raised a generation that is not used to sticking to something unto completion.  They want it done – now.  Sometimes childbirth can literally take days!  Not to mention lengthy pregnancies.  And then there is the process called “parenting.”  If anyone tells you that your responsibility ends at 18, when your child becomes legal, they are lying to you.  And if you think being a parent gets easier as your children get older, that is another misconception.  Life only gets more and more complicated and intricate as we all grow older, bringing the next generation along with us.  I pray for my children every day.  I pray for my grandchildren every day.

My grandmother, in her late 90s, apologized to me for the world she left to me and to my children.  She said they had gotten it wrong.  She told me a story of how she and my grandpa put all their belongings into and onto their Model T and drove to Canada, in search of work, during the Great Depression.  There were no hotels, no mini-marts, and very few gas stations along their way. They made tents nightly off their car and my grandma, who had brought some sourdough starter with her, managed to bake bread every couple of days, over an open fire. My father, born in 1926, was a small baby at the time.  They made it to Canada and made a life for themselves.  Along came WWII and my grandparents, living in New Zealand by then, suffered deprivation yet again.  They vowed to not allow my dad to feel the pinch,  as they called it.  And they continued to support him through much of his adult life.  They continued in their support of me, paying for my college tuition (as long as I maintained at least a “B” average) and parts of my expenses, always willing to give me $20 when I needed it.  Grandma apologized, saying to me that unless people really work for it, they do not appreciate what they have, and constantly look for more.  And they do not know how to sacrifice for something or someone; they have no work ethic.  She believed her generation had brought us troubled times ahead because of their generosity; I think she was right on many things.

Choose words wisely

I tried to instill a strong work-ethic in my sons, through demonstrating my work at home as well as when I did work outside the home. My husband has been an incredible example of a Christian man, struggling for his family. His sons adore him for that and much more.  My prayer today, in light of the birth of our grand daughter, is that our children and grandchildren will be proud to work and proud of their accomplishments.  That they will not mind sweating to get what they need to provide for their families.  That they will appreciate intellectual, as well as physical, labor.  That they will reach out and help those in need, keeping an eye on family members and their neighbors, too.  That they will not mind sacrificing to save another person, another life, and to assist in protecting the lives we are blessed to have. But first and foremost among these things I pray for, is that my children and grandchildren will live a life ordered on love of God above all else.  If their love of God is not celebrated formally, but is quiet and not obvious, I am okay with that, as long as they cling to their core beliefs. I believe that if we love and honor God first and foremost, the qualities of a believing Christian will spill into all the other aspects of our lives.

And today becomes a special day for us; the birth of our first grand daughter.  It is a day to celebrate with God the gift of life.  Praise be to God….another miracle!

Miracle baby toes